Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Struggle For the Moral Soul: MLK and Civil Rights

I was asked to write about my deep love for Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement by Naxos, the Classical music company, on their blog. Friends also urged me to post it here.)

"Justice at its best is power
correcting everything that stands against love."

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think the Civil Rights Movement was the best thing that ever happened to America, because it forced us to redeem ourselves. And it still is.

I grew up in the South and Midwest during the civil rights years and their aftermath. It challenged everything about my world and deepened my appreciation of humanity. Not a single day passes where the lessons learned are not affecting my perceptions, my outlook, or my aspirations. What is right nowadays stems from their moral paths, what is wrong tends to come from where any of us have lost the way. It's on each of us to make it better for each other. Selflessness brings us into the better angels of our nature. This is my psalm of love to my heroes, the bravest of the brave.

When you look back at the black and white photos of the tense events of the civil rights struggle in the 50's and 60's, like those shot by Charles Moore, there is a strangely brutal clarity. It seems like all artifice strips away leaving only hate and heroism. There is no theatre. There's only that queasy moment when something terrible is happening, when someone is doing wrong to someone, or recklessly trying to stand up in the face of danger. It is immediate, it's serious, it's real. A black woman cringing from a swung baseball bat. People slammed to the ground by the high-pressure firehoses of Alabama firemen. State Troopers charging church marchers with batons through tear gas. College students bludgeoned by horseback cops. And this was America.

There is a sickness so terrible in those frames, it chills the heart. Studying those snapshots and films, you look in the faces of the racist cop, the klanswoman, the corrupt governor, and you can perhaps also see their fear...of the modern, of change, of the truth. They look like sad relics not quite grasping that their hold is slipping, that critical mass is tiding against them. That every wrong they've ever done is coming up for account.

Hindsight is one thing, but living through that revolution was far more intense; it was painful, personal, and ongoing. And there was really nothing black and white about any of it. Black And White was just ink on a copy page, photos on newsprint, flickers on a television. It was the medium for conveying this moral war, but the reality was too complex for polar absolutes. Those shocking events were actually an alarmingly clear mirror showing the spectrum of our neglect. It ripped up laissez-fair dismissals about the reality of racism to shreds. It stripped away the firewalls that we used to separate it from our lives. Most of all, it forced us to question our national identity, and our personal character. Were you really what you said you were, who you thought you were? Where did you stand, and why? This was no civics lesson or some marketing campaign. This was the new true reality. Not shopping, not cruising, not the cinema. Those images and stories radically challenged how you behaved and what you believed in.

This was a new era where the political was a personal as it gets. Who was the Enemy here; was it the Klan South, the segregationist politicians, outmoded laws? Or also benign ignorance, local injustice, personal acts? Racism was as pervasive in all regions of the country and society as the South. People may have been carefully segregated by opposing terms like Black or White, male or female, Christian or heathen. But that aritifice stripped away when you had to stand at the mirror and face who you really were inside. The truth was that the real enemy was the ugliness in the human heart. There was no Us and Them. There was only each of us having to atone for any flaws in our own daily actions going forward. The moral struggle for the soul of the nation had to happen ultimately within each of us.

Part of the pain of living in the South and Midwest was seeing that poison directly in the ones you loved, in yourself. It's easy for someone to stand outside of an area and point out cardboard villains. It was another thing to live there and see the loved ones you trusted -who put church above all else, were wise and kind, who raised you- also believing in the same cruel hatred that compelled Sheriff James Clark to violently assault protesters. Another thing then to find some of these seeds in yourself and weed them out. Facing these truths left you feeling like a smashed windshield after a collision. It called into question your faith in love itself. How could these very moral people teach such immoral attitudes? How could they be Christian while excluding everyone they were afraid of? The sadness was compounded by watching these people you respected -who cared about family, led decent lives, worked hard every day- then having their sad fears twisted into hate for personal power by men in suits: pastors, police, politicians. Who could you believe in anymore?

"It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rosa Parks was tired. She'd worked hard all day and she didn't want to give up her seat on the bus. The law said she should but the law was immoral. By trying to hold on to her dignity in one small moment, Rosa took a stand that changed everything. People stepped forward to stand with her, and more, and more. Now we all had to make decisions on what was better for everyone, even if the written law was unequal to the task.

You could instead choose an honest love, a compassionate outlook, a giving hand, that left hate and hypocrisy behind. The Civil Rights Movement forced you to make a choice. Often between relationships and principle, selfishness and selflessness, between the past and the future, repression or progress. It was the hardest break of all but it was necessary for the soul.

Dr. King never succumbed to hate. He steadfastly remembered that his enemies were just people who could still be reached, befriended, forgiven. Resorting to brutality or hatred only dehumanized any of us. He put all his faith in human dignity, and in the world's support when they saw it being assailed. He was right to and always will be. No one could see the bombing of the church which killed four little girls and not be moved on the deepest level. King believed foremost in our humanity, that we would come through for another in pain. This redemptive love ennobled our nation and inspired us to be better people.

When a flash flood hits, it's pretty overwhelming and dramatic. Then it seeps down out of view, only to flourish seeds in the future. The 60's and the empowerment ethos ignited by the Civil Rights Movement were like a flash flood worldwide.

Before, the mainstream culture at large had been strictly for the Included. TV ads and shows, churches, schools, and industry were very good about reminding everyone what those parameters were, and how you did or didn't fit into them. But in the biggest generation ever, that left a lot of ostracized people to meet each other and bond together. There was nothing black or white about any of them, they were like a prism of possibilities; Ban The Bomb activists, Folk protestors, Rock hedonists, Jazz boppers, ecologists, vegetarians, student uprisers, international dissidents, disillusioned soldiers, young college women, banned writers, progressive teachers, pacifist clergy, migrant workers, repressed voters, closeted gays, starving artists, fashion forwards, philosophers, shafted unions, poor people...the list was limitless. No one had a monopoly on pain. Its universality connected them. By sharing common grievance they began to see an end to limitations when they pooled their strengths. That's the true 60's...the Empowerment era. En masse, their alienation created a sort of sub-nation, a counterculture. This humanist movement's mantra was freedom, in the sense of personal emancipation.

There's a clear throughline from the Civil Rights movement to Farmworkers' rights, the Paris revolts, Prague Spring, the Counterculture, Feminism and ERA, Chicano pride, AIM, Solidarnosc, Eastern European liberation, ecology, Apartheid's end, and Gay rights. They are all the seeds that grew from the flood that Rosa Parks unleashed that fateful day she made her stand.

For his humane efforts, King was called "an extremist" by conservative attackers. Though never elected to the office, Martin Luther King was the moral President of the United States...and he still is.

"Why have we substituted the arrogant undertaking of policing the whole world, for the high task of setting one's own house in order?

For the evils of racism, poverty, and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born.

Our economy must become more person-centered
than profit- and property-centered."

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

Let's keep going forward together.

NINA SIMONE -"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (1964)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

ROCK Sex Quickie: Junior Murvin> The Clash!

ROCK SEX Quickie says, 'up against the wall'.

"Police and Thieves" was first done by reggae star JUNIOR MURVIN. Produced by the crazed Lee Perry, his sweet falsetto works in compassionate contrast to the harsh realities he's speaking to.

JUNIOR MURVIN -"Police and Thieves" (1976)

THE CLASH made it even more famous, helping build the bridge between Reggae and Punk/PostPunk culture.

THE CLASH -"Police and Thieves" (1977)

Friday, February 26, 2010

LADIES FIRST: 'Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)'

Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston

LADIES FIRST gives due to famous songs that actually 'she did first'.

"Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)" was written by Motown's monster hitwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1964. And technically, the first version was by Eddie Holland himself, though it was never released (until 2005). But the smash hit recording that set it all off was by KIM WESTON.

KIM WESTON -"Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)" (1965)

During their Motown years THE ISLEY BROTHERS also covered it.

In 1971, it was embraced awhile by BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS.

Here's another update by VINEGAR JOE, a British Rock'n'Soul band with the good fortune to have both Elkie Brooks and Robert ("Addicted To Love") Palmer as their vocalists. Since the band dissolved in '73, it's a safe bet they preceded the next ones.

VINEGAR JOE -"Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)" (live, circa 1973)

A Canadian soul singer named CHARITY BROWN next did a go at it in 1975, but just as her single was taking off, it was lost in the dust of the following version.

Tom Johnston of THE DOOBIE BROTHERS loved Kim Weston's single and took the song's title literally by ramping it up guitar style. It became one of their signature songs, so much so that most fans think it was theirs in the first place.

DB -"Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)" (1975)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

BEYOND COOL: Badfinger, the secret Beatles!

I love BADFINGER and you should, too. Here's a music player to win you over. There, that's settled, and now let's solve climate change.

"Here it is, come and get it!"

Watch the Video Playlist of this here!

I will be breaking into your house later and checking your computer to make sure you've been won over.*

*ROCK Sex Legal Dept.: "Our client's statement is untrue. He was talking smack for laughs."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ROCK Orgy: 'Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)!'

ROCK Orgies are songs that tribute other songs and singers.

"Life Is a Rock (But the Radio rolled Me)" was a bubblegum toss-off that hit it big. At a spitfire pace it lists a galaxy of artists, songs, DJs, and labels from the previous two decades of Rock'n'Soul. Many more than I can point out, so read the lyrics here and watch this fantastically clever video here!:

REUNION -"Life Is a Rock (But the Radio rolled Me)" (1974)

The video even slips in some more for good measure!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Well, I Can't Forget This Evening'

ROCK Sex can live with this song forever.

BADFINGER were The Beatles for the 1970's, except that the decade didn't know it. Glorious songs and horrible luck. But I consider that great band a treasure chest instead of a tragedy, and here's one more reason why.

"Without You" started out in half moves. First it took form as a song sketch by Pete Ham with the working title "If It's Love", with the verses and melody close but the chorus entirely different; you can sample Pete's lovely demo here. Then Tom Evans put in the chorus from his song "I Can't Live". Badfinger recorded the melded version on their album "No Dice" in 1970.

Paul McCartney, one of their Apple label bosses and an admirer, enthused that it was "...the killer song of all time."

BADFINGER -"Without You" (1970)

Another running mate of The Beatles, HARRY NILSSON must have felt so, too. First he did a heartfelt piano demo, and then recorded a stunning cover version. While everyone missed it on Badfinger's version, his "Without You" was a world smash and stayed at #1 in the US for a month.

HN -"Without You" (1971)

It was such a success that he also did a Spanish version, "Sin Ti".

This is another case of how the cover version eclipsed the original, with most folks thinking it's Harry's song. Though lately they may think it's Mariah Carey's or any one of these.

But for me it's one more reason to be grateful for Pete, Tom, Mike, and Joey.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

ROCK Orgy: 'Hot Topic' + Women Who Rock!

LE TIGRE: Johanna Fateman, JD Samson, Kathleen Hanna

ROCK Orgies are songs that celebrate other artists or songs.

After helping spearhead the Riot Grrrl Movement in the early 90's, a Punk feminist running partner with Grunge and activist youth, KATHLEEN HANNA eventually struck new courses with the Electro-Punk trio, LE TIGRE.

"Hot Topic" gives due shout-outs to tons of female innovators in the arts, sports, activism, and music.

Here's a cool video by Wynne Greenwood that complements that with even more great influencers.

LE TIGRE -"Hot Topic" (1999)

On the music side, the song salutes sonic rebels like Yoko Ono, Cibo Matto, The Butchies, Sleater-Kinney, UT, Ann Peebles, Nina Simone, The Slits, Hazel Dickens, Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett, Mia X, and The Need. Winners all!

"Don't you stop
We won't stop
Don't you stop..."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Our little group has always been, and always will until the end'

ROCK Sex feels that 'all in all is all we are'.

Today's KURT COBAIN's birthday. This is a tribute to his memory.

One of the first tributes was on the heels of NIRVANA's breakthrough hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit". TORI AMOS stripped the Grunge down to the fragile heart at the core of the song with this haunting ballad rendition.

TORI AMOS -"Smells Like Teen Spirit" (live)

In the wake of losing Kurt, many were moved to give back some of the galvanizing energy he had given them. SINEAD O'CONNOR made a luminous elegy out of his "All Apologies".

SINEAD O'CONNOR -"All Apologies" (1994)

When Kurt died, he referenced a NEIL YOUNG lyric, "it's better to burn out than it is to rust", in his farewell note. Young himself, familiar with the symptoms of Kurt's increasingly self-destructive behavior, had tried in vain to reach him before it was too late. Deeply hurt by the loss and pained by the lyric, Young and CRAZY HORSE dedicated their "Sleep With Angels" album and song to Kurt.

Taking a cue from his Beatles-inspired song "About a Girl", PATTI SMITH responded with "About a Boy". She later recorded a cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

PATTI SMITH -"About a Boy" (1996)

After four hard years, COURTNEY LOVE spoke to her pain in HOLE's "Reasons To Be Beautiful". She transforms Neil's lyric into the admonition "It's better to rise than fade away". The uplift and agony in the last minute of this song still brings me to tears.

HOLE -"Reasons To Be Beautiful" (1998)

"Take a rest,
As a friend,
As an old memory..."

Friday, February 19, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'I Want You!'

ROCK Sex tells you what it wants what it really really wants.

Today's relay is that universal desire, "I Want You". Here's a lot of ranting and raving about the craving.

Let's let Liverpool's unsung Beat group, JEANNIE & THE BIG GUYS, kick us off...

JEANNIE & THE BIG GUYS- "I Want You" (1964)

Bringing some of that Garage lust, via the "Louie Louie"/"Wild Thing" riff, is THE TROGGS...

THE TROGGS -"I Want You" (1966)

BOB DYLAN mixes scorn, ache, and surreality in his plea...

BOB -"I Want You" (1966)

THE BEATLES make an epic Grunge grind out of it that hypnotizes you into submission...

THE FABS -"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (1969)

MARVIN GAYE seduces us into sin with angelic grace...

MARVIN -"I Want You" (1976)

CHEAP TRICK make sure it's mutual...

CHEAP TRICK -"I Want You To Want Me" (live, 1978)

After the intro, a minute in, listen to how ELVIS COSTELLO rechannels The Beatles' groove and Dylan's edge from above...

COSTELLO -"I Want You" (1986)

Bringing us round trip, here's Canada's FEFE DOBSON making her feelings known...

FEFE DOBSON -"I Want You" (2009)

This sentiment has also been expressed variously by KISS, COMMON, MOLOKU, and INSPIRAL CARPETS w/ Mark E. Smith, among many others.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

ROCK Orgy: 'F.U.N.K.'

ROCK Orgies are songs that call out a lot of other artists and songs.

Here's the queen of Funk Rock, badder than bad BETTY DAVIS, giving us a crash course in "F.U.N.K."

BETTY DAVIS- "F.U.N.K." (2.0)* (1975)

*This is the second, better version of a video for the same song

Party guests (in order):

The Funk Brothers (Motown); Booker T & the MGs; James Brown; Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker (The JBs, P-Funk); The Meters; Sly & the Family Stone; Stevie Wonder; Tina Turner; Al Green; Ann Peebles; Miles Davis; Billy Preston; Carlos Santana; Curtis Mayfield; Barry White; Larry Graham; Isaac Hayes; The O'Jays; Betty Davis; Jimi Hendrix Experience; Rare Earth; Herbie Hancock & Headhunters; Aretha Franklin (w/ Ahmet Ertegun); Rufus w/ Chaka Khan; Parliament/Funkadelic; The Ohio Players; Marvin Gaye; War; Earth Wind & Fire; Bootsy Collins; and -the Man- Sly Stone now.

video by Funk'n'Roll

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Now The Time Has Come!'

ROCK Sex says 'there are things to realize'.

"Time Has Come Today" was a bit of a shock, as much as when Dylan went electric. THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS had made a name for themselves on the folk and gospel circuit. But when they plugged in and rocked out on this harsh, rebellious, and political single, it chimed in a new day.

Garage Rock was just underground or local 45's then, mostly unplayed on the air, fuzzy riffs but usually just sniping about a girlfriend. Adult anger with teen concerns. This song was something more. Beyond the snarly licks, it had a political conscience, really brazen echo, and was made by a predominantly black band. This song was as much a direct hinge into the rise of Psychedelia as any Garage song can be. And a gateway for all the black psychedelic bands that still consistantly get written out of the NUGGETS canon.

THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS -"Time Has Come Today" (1966)

At its heart Punk was an extension of 60's Garage Rock, protest songs, and activist lifestyle, though it rarely admitted it at the time. Here's LA band ANGRY SAMOANS doing one of the first flashforwards of this ageless song, satirizing the consumer zombies of the Reagan era:

ANGRY SAMOANS -"Time Has Come Today" (1982)

More known is this great version by THE RAMONES, preaching to the new congregation.

THE RAMONES -"Time Has Come Today" (1983)

As women vie with the black contingent for the most underappreciated in the Garage Rock realm, here's heir JOAN JETT telling us what time it is.

JOAN JETT -"Time Has Come Today" (1990)

More than its sound, it's the lyrics of "Time Has Come Today" that keep it timeless. Here are recent updates by STEVE EARLE & SHERYL CROW, and by THE LORDS OF ALTAMONT.

"Now the time has come (Time)
There's no place to run (Time)
I might get burned up by the sun (Time)
But I had my fun (Time)
I've been loved and put aside (Time)
I've been crushed by tumbling tide (Time)

And my soul has been psychedelicized (Time)"

Monday, February 15, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Brand New Dances, Like the Nuclear Bomb'

ROCK Sex is going out on the town tonight.

"Nightclubbing", the proto-Industrial song by IGGY POP, grew out of his times with David Bowie in the late 70's Berlin scene. Electronic and progressive German musicians like Kraftwerk, Neu!, Faust, Kluster, and Can were rethinking the soundscape of modern music. Pop, Bowie, and Brian Eno were among the first to recognize and expand on this profoundly influential movement.

IGGY POP -"Nightclubbing" (1977)

It's been noted that the riff has a sly similarity to "Rock and Roll" by Gary Glitter. HUMAN LEAGUE must have noticed because they recorded a "Rock'n' Roll/Nightclubbing" medley in 1980.

GRACE JONES was so taken by this song that it became the title track of her breakthrough album.

GRACE JONES -"Nightclubbing" (1981)

NINE INCH NAILS used a sample of the kick drum in their big hit, "Closer". And OASIS also sampled the drums for "Force of Nature" (2002).

Because you're bound to run into someone you know when you go out, here's Iggy and Grace together bringing the party with them!

IGGY POP and GRACE JONES -"Nightclubbing" (2009)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Love and Let Love!'

Love and Let Love!

"All You Need Is Love" meant empathy, intimacy, support, selflessness, and spiritual solidarity. These are the tonics to alienation, segregation, hostility, selfishness, and existential emptiness.

BESSIE SMITH -"You've Got To Give Me Some" (1928)

The expression of love is a sacred act and a spiritual pact. It may be fleeting, may be only a cherished moment, or perhaps as deep as life is long. But the selfless act of giving of ourselves for another's benefit lifts us into the better angels of our nature. Hate only degrades and destroys. Love nourishes the individual soul and the human species. Without it, we will not survive.

RITA CHAO & The Quests/ NANCY SIT -"Hanky Panky" (1967)

'Love is love and Hate ain't'; it can't be legislated, leveled, or lynched. Let no one put it asunder. These are my tributes to love; its stirrings, its courtship, its consumation, its playful dynamics and trusts, its gameplaying, its limitless range.

TINA TURNER -"Whole Lotta Love" (1975)

Love is the antidote to all harm; it is the pulsebeat of the human race.

-all videos created by Funk'n'Roll

Friday, February 12, 2010

LADIES FIRST: 'Demolition Woman!'

LADIES FIRST hips you to songs that 'she did first'.

GRACE JONES actually recorded the first version of "Demolition Man", written by Sting.

GRACE JONES -"Demolition Man" (1981)

Quickly thereafter, Sting recorded his own take on his song with his mates THE POLICE.

THE POLICE -"Demolition Man" (1981)

A year later it was done again by MANFRED MANN'S EARTH BAND. Mann is more famous for his hits "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" ('64) and "Blinded By the Light" ('77).

And it gave the title to Stallone's SF action flick, "DEMOLITION MAN" (1993), where Sting remade it for the soundtrack.

As everything is cyclical, Wesley Snipes wouldn't have had his whole post-New Wave look if it hadn't been for Grace Jones forging the path in the first place!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Talk Talk!'

"Talk Talk", by author T. Coraghessan Boyle, 2006.

ROCK Sex is a talking head.

Sean Bonniwell's THE MUSIC MACHINE blasted out this furious fuzz in The Golden Year Of Our Garage Rock, 1966...

THE MUSIC MACHINE -"Talk Talk" (1966)

Not to be outsquawked, here's TALK TALK doing their song "Talk Talk" from their album "Talk Talk"!

TALK TALK -"Talk Talk" (1982)

Well, I guess they sure told me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


STARSTRUCK, the illustrated Sci-Fi masterpiece where Riot Grrls take over the galaxy, has new pages on FACEBOOK!

You can join the Group page...

...and also become a Fan...

Starstruck Galatia & Brucilla

We all know that the 80's renaissance of comix included WATCHMEN, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, AMERICAN FLAGG, MIRACLEMAN, and LOVE & ROCKETS.

But easily as bold, much more ambitious, and far more funny was STARSTRUCK. Yet the acclaimed series by Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta was criminally overlooked. And let's face it... it's because it starred kickass funny women instead of terse aggro men. Now it has returned in monthly issues with expanded art and stunning color.

Time to catch up to the better revolution and support STARSTRUCK today!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Don't Bring Me Down'

ROCK Sex was brought up to bring friends up.

The running connection this time is a song title; "Don't Bring Me Down", or variations thereof.

Who wants to be brought down? Nobody, so we all like a good defiance or uplift song on that score. Here's decades of both.

JOHNNIE DEE did an R'n'B song (which sadly I don't have a link for) that was covered by proto-garage band THE PRETTY THINGS and became a Top 10 hit in the UK:

THE PRETTY THINGS -"Don't Bring Me Down" (1964)

At the same time, THE ANIMALS asked hit-writing duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King for a song and they came up with this eternal:

THE ANIMALS -"Don't Bring Me Down" (1964)

On their first album, JEFFERSON AIRPLANE did a song called "Bringing Me Down".

Later John Lennon and THE BEATLES turned the warning to a hearfelt request:

THE BEATLES, with Billy Preston -"Don't Let Me Down" (1969)

Of a similar mind, NEIL YOUNG turned the sentiment to solace:

NEIL YOUNG -"Don't Let It Bring You Down" (live, 1971)

(Here's a luminous cover by ANNIE LENNOX.)

Another variant on the theme is this early solo track by MICHAEL JACKSON:

MJ -"Don't Let It Get You Down" (1973)

Alan Clarke and THE HOLLIES had their own angle on it:

THE HOLLIES -"Don't Let Me Down" (1974)

Meanwhile DAVID BOWIE remade the Johnnie Dee/ Pretty Things song.

And here's an empowerment anthem, "Don't Bring Me Down" by LABELLE, written by New Orleans' funkmeister Allan Toussaint.

In the uplift corner is the wonderful embrace of "Don't Let No One Get You Down" by WAR, sung by keyboardist Lonnie Jordan.

Paul McCartney had a second go at that same outlook with this overlooked gem:

WINGS -"Don't Let It Bring You Down" (1978)

Jeff Lynne, a peer and acolyte of many of these acts, topped them all with ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA's smash hit:

ELO -"Don't Bring Me Down" (1979)

Recently new songs in the "Don't Bring Me Down" relay appeared by THE SAW DOCTORS , ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, THE BLACK EYE PEAS, SIA, and SPOON.

Hey, I'm feeling glad all over!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'I'll Tell You Once More Before I Get Off the Floor'

ROCK Sex gives you the lowdown with no letdown.

"Don't Bring Me Down" was accidently the biggest smash hit ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA ever had.

Leader Jeff Lynne melded together a lot of influences in this throwaway song that became a perennial classic. The tune was created off -the-cuff in a German studio and the spare metallic drum loop hearkens to the influence of Kraftwerk. The "downdowndadowndown" ad lib at the end recalls a similar one from "Who's been Here" (1961) by Commonwealth Jones, actually a psuedonym for young Rockabilly firebrand Ronnie Dawson. The bassline recalls "I Can't Take No More" (1970) by Atomic Rooster. There is a quiet structural similarity to "You Can't Do That" by The Beatles, particularly in the boogie vamp at 2:55. Some of the harmonies on the chorus sound like The Bee Gees who were then at the height of their fame. And the "Oo-ee-hoo" recalls Little Richard/Paul McCartney.

Jeff threw in a made-up word, "grroosss", for harmony. Since it was done in Germany it was first mistaken for a similar German word for 'greeting'. But everyone else in the world mishead it as "don't bring me down, Bruce", which Jeff cheekily sings now in concert.

ELO -"Don't Bring Me Down" (1979)

THE DAZZ BAND was inspired to their name by the song "Dazz" ('disco jazz') by Brick. For this great hit they also adopted Devo's robotic funk and just may have borrowed the signature "oo-ee-hoo" from Jeff:

THE DAZZ BAND -"Let It Whip" (1982)

Recently the ELO song has been covered by OK GO and The New Pornographers.

The Dazz Band song was covered by Boyz II Men and SR-71. Sadly, I couldn't find the Cantonese version by George Lam of Hong Kong!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

ROCK Sex: 'Mama-se, Mama-sa, Ma-ko-Ma-Ko-ssa'

ROCK Sex goes sax crazy.

MANU DIBANGO, a saxophonist from Cameroon, set off an international sensation with his single "Soul Makossa". This extremely obscure flipside was picked up by New York DJs in 1972 and became such a regional hit that at least nine cover versions rushed in to capitalize on it, including The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, Babatunde Olatunji, and The Fania All-Stars.

The real version was then licensed and became a Billboard Soul hit (#35), a breakthrough for African artists that would then open the door for attention to Fela, King Sunny Ade, Youssou N'Dour, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Zap Mama, and scores more.

Crucial to the song is its chant of "mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ko-ma-ko-ssa"...

MANU DIBANGO -"Soul Makossa" (1972)

Showing the global impact of Dibango's song, listen to this soundtrack homage by Italy's great film composer ARMANDO TROVAIOLI (also, Trovajoli)...

ARMANDO TROVAIOLI -"Sesso Matto (Sex Crazy)" (1973)

The chant also had clear impact in this famous hit by MICHAEL JACKSON ten years later...

MJ -"Wanna Be Startin' Something" (1982)

"Soul Makossa" has been covered by Afrika Bambaataa, and sampled by Jay Z ("Face Off"), Rihanna ("Don't Stop the Music"), Wyclef Jean ("The Carnival"), The Bloodhound Gang ("Mama Say"), and A Tribe Called Quest ( "Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)").

"Makoosa... Akeela Mama
Ko mama sa maka makoosa Mama ko mama sa maka makoosa
Mama ko mama sa maka makoosa
Heyyyy soul makoosa..."